Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Do we write differently

when we write by hand, by typewriter and then by word processor or computer? What if we use speech recognition software? The subject came up yesterday at our afternoon tea.
Afternoon tea itself was a lively, noisy event. Much else was also discussed but the "writing differently" idea seems to be an important one.
The Senior Cat is of the paper and ink (read dip-into-the-inkwell) generation. He left school when most people still wrote that way. He taught some of us to use pen and ink. I can remember when you were not allowed to sign a cheque with a biro.
The Senior Cat still uses a fountain pen on a regular basis and I know other people who prefer to write with a fountain pen. Other people have never used them and I know children who would not know what a fountain pen is. Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens, Austen and many others must have written with quill pens. The process of writing was much slower. I have already written more words on this screen today than they would be able to write in a similar time.
But, it is not just about being able to write more. Do we write differently? One person said that, if you write by hand, you perhaps write more carefully. You think more carefully about what you are going to put on the page. There is not the same room for revisions.
I remember my doctoral supervisor. He wrote everything in long hand with two blank lines between each initial line. He would then go back and make alterations on the blank lines. His long suffering secretary was expected to make sense of all this and present him with a pristine copy...which he would sometimes change again. He was not an easy man to work for.
Another member of staff used to dictate everything to his secretary. One of the staff was also a part-time journalist for no less a paper than the Times. He was a two fingered typist of amazing speed. He did precious little revision. There is little room for that in the world of journalism.
I do not revise what I write on my blog - and yes, it probably does read that way.
I am mostly a keyboard writer. Actually writing things down on paper is something I find difficult and the act of writing gets in the way of what I want to say. It is much faster to use a keyboard. I am not a "proper" typist, a keyboard artist who uses all fingers but I am faster at typing than writing. It definitely affects the amount I can say and yes, probably the way I say it.
And then there are the letters I occasionally dictate for other people to use. They tend to be short and very much to the point. They rarely get revised. It is just as well because it is often the Senior Cat or an older person who asks and, even without their equivalent of a quill pen, they tend to write more slowly and carefully.
I suspect we do write differently for different circumstances and depending on how we are doing the delivery. I have yet to try speech recognition software. It might be interesting but I think I will remain hitched to a dinasour-computer-screen.


Sue Bursztynski said...

When I was growing up, we had cartridge and fountain pens. Biros, yes, but not for use at school. As a writer, I did do things differently. I wrote in longhand, then typed on my typewriter and revised while I was at it. Now I mostly start on the computer, which means revision also has to be done that way. It's different because I don't have to retype everything, so perhaps I don't rewrite as much. On the other hand, it's a LOT easier. I don't have to retype a whole MS because a few words don't work and I have no sentimental feelings about pre-computer days. My handwriting is not the best and teachers made my life a misery because of it. My own students can type up their work on school computers, and they can redraft at the touch of a keyboard.

jeanfromcornwall said...

Oh yes for sure we write differently - but who can say if it is better or worse?
When I am using a pen, I find myself constantly revising to keep it shorter. Writing hurts my hand and I have lost my neatness. I can achieve a much better letter with a keyboard.
When my Mother wrote her "Flora", (of the parish she lived in) I typed it all - three carbon copies, and all corrections done manually, so that was a true labour of love. How I would have appreciated a simple word processor then!
Since then I have typed up the various exercise books of hand-written memoirs that my Father left and been able to send electronic copies to my children, as well as putting a printed one in the local history society's archive.
Technology offers a route out of people's heads for all the marvellous ideas and memories that are stored in there - and a whole lot of dross as well!!! But we can't put the genie back in the bottle.